Teacher's 'Pet'

Tenant: "What's the big fuss. A few weeks ago, one of my students brought this adorable little pup to school. I couldn't say 'no', so I brought the little cutey home. I don't understand why you are being so mean about this. Do you just hate all animals?" Landlord: "I'm sure that you, as a teacher, are familiar with contracts. When you signed our rental agreement three months ago you also signed our pet policy which makes it clear that no pets are allowed in our property at any time or under any circumstances - no matter how 'cute'."

Tenant: "But, just look at her. She needs me. She's so small, vulnerable, and desperate for a loving home. What damage could she do? Can't you make an exception for me...please?"

What's the big deal about tenants and their pets, anyways? This can be an emotionally charged topic. Problems with pets and their owners have increasingly led many landlords to be far more specific about what is and is not permitted. State laws have also changed in response to legal issues that have erupted over pet ownership. Adding fuel to this fire is the trend of more and more families owning pets while the number of rental properties permitting pets continues to decrease.

Obviously there are both pro's and con's regarding allowing pets in rental property. The more knowledgeable both landlords and tenants become on the particulars, the fewer the altercations over the issues.

Here are a few good reasons to Permit Pets:

  • The Numbers. The majority of prospective tenants already have pets. Some surveys suggest up to 75 percent of tenants own one or more pets. A 'no pet' policy dramatically limits the number of tenants available to you, the landlord. Also, pet friendly properties may even collect a higher than average rent.
  • The Joy. Pets often make for a happy home. They have a knack for reducing our stress which, in turn, may make us healthier.
  • The Trust. Trust begets trust. If a tenant takes responsibility for their pet(s), they will often be more responsible for the house they live in. Pet owning tenants, reportedly, also tend to renew their lease more often than those without pets.
  • The Security. The presence of pets not only brings a greater sense of emotional security to many tenants, but may also provide an additional level of physical security to your property - disinclining potential criminals from intruding.

There are, of course, several legitimate reasons for a No Pet Policy:

  • The Damage. Whether it is urine stains and smells, chewed baseboard and door frames, or claw-scratched wooden floors, repairs are costly.
  • The Liability. Nearly 5 million people are bitten by a dog every year! Lawsuits may be even more costly than repairs to property.
  • The Noise.  Pet noises that might not otherwise bother the pet-loving tenant, may be driving a neighboring tenant 'nuts'.
  • The Reactions. Nearby tenants may be allergic to certain animals. Also, some folks are just afraid of being around any kind of dog.

Tenants:  Be A Smart Pet Lover

  • Be Clear. Know what the Pet Policy requires. Also, if there are HOA rules regarding pets, whether or not your particular landlord has a specific pet policy you are still obligated to abide by the rules of the larger community. The community in which you rent may have additional ordinances regarding the number and type pets as well as a limit on the permissible noise level of pets. These may exceed what your landlord specifies.
  • Be Legal. Don't place your tenancy is jeopardy either by ignorance or by dismissing your legal obligations as unimportant.
  • Stay Clear. Be sure your pets will squeal you out. Don't try to hide the fact that you actually have a pet even though you said you didn't or the fact that you have added a pet after having signed the pet policy that forbids having one or that requires notifying the landlord before owning one. Trying to save a few bucks by hiding the fact that you have a pet will cost you too much in the long run. The fact that you lied will be a red flag in the future whenever you try to rent elsewhere. Worse, breaking the terms of your lease will either require you to get rid of your beloved 'fluffy' or face eviction.
  • Be Responsible. Immediately clean up after your pets. Take whatever measures are necessary, and permissible, to keep your pet from causing any damage to the property you rent. If there is damage, don't attempt to repair it yourself. Report it to your landlord as soon as you become aware of it. It will cost you less to have the landlord take care of the repairs then to do it yourself and it not be acceptable later by the landlord. Also, don't allow your pet to be a nuisance or threat to other tenants or neighbors.

Landlords: Creating a Pet Policy

  • The Law. What are the laws of your state re: setting pet policies? Abide by the Fair Housing laws re: 'service dogs' or 'companion dogs'. There may be other laws that come into play regarding pets, some that require making 'reasonable accommodations' in certain cases. Be sure to keep up to date with your state and local laws as well as any HOA rules. Make sure that the wording in your pet policy meets legal standards. Consult a legal expert.
  • Insurance. What types of animals will your property insurance allow? Which pets are not permitted? Does your insurance company have a list of  'dangerous breeds'? There is often a pretty consistent list of about a dozen types of dogs that insurance companies won't cover. Whether or not you agree is beside the point. If you permit a dog that your insurance company won't cover, you will have to foot the whole expense if that dog causes problems.
  • The Policy. Have a separate, legally written, pet policy that every tenant (including all roommates) reads and signs whether or not they have a pet. Make it clear that this policy can be changed at any time as you deem necessary, with a 30 day notice given for any such changes.
  • Be Specific. If pets are allowed, be sure to be clear on what that means. The more specific you are, the less chance you will have a disagreeable confrontation with your tenant later.
  • Don't Ignore. If your tenant owns a dog that you know poses a threat to others, yet it can be shown that you not only knew, but did nothing about it, you may be held liable if that dog injures someone. Don't be soft re: your insurance companies 'banned' animals.

How Specific Must a Pet Policy Be? Here are some suggestions:

  • Note the types of animals permissible or not - dogs, cats, birds, fish, and/or reptiles?
  • Which breeds of animals are banned? Which breeds will your property insurance policy insist that you ban?
  • How many pets are permissible? How many of each type of animal allowed?
  • Do you have a height/weight limit for pets? What are your exceptions, if any?
  • Must a pet 'pass' a personal 'interview' with you before a lease is signed?
  • If there is a pet deposit how much is it? Is it refundable? Or, will there be a monthly pet fee? Which is legal in your state?
  • What if pet damage is greater than the deposit? Have you made it clear that any damages must be immediately reported to you, and that you will have the damage fixed at their expense?
  • Will a current photo of each pet need to be submitted?
  • Must all pets wear collars with proper identification?
  • Will you require a history for each pet? For example, has the pet been rescued from a previously abusive home, has it ever caused damage to property, have there ever been complaints made against their pet, and/or has the pet ever hurt anyone?
  • Do you require veterinarian certified proof of vaccinations and license for your files?
  • Must the name, address, and phone number for a current veterinarian be kept updated and on file for all pets?
  • Must cats be spayed or neutered?
  • Are any of the pets permitted to roam freely outside the home?
  • Must pets be on a lease when outside the home?
  • What do you consider as animal related damage - urine stained carpet, scratches on wooden floors, chewed door frames, etc?
  • If rental insurance is required, must it specifically cover pet damage and their type of pet?
  • If the pet is permitted to run free in a fenced backyard, what do you require re: cleaning up feces and repairing damage to the grounds?
  • What do you require re: insect infestations? Must the pet wear a flea collar, take meds to prevent insects, etc?
  • How should litter boxes by handled? Where are they to be emptied?
  • Will you allow alterations in the property to make it more pet friendly - such as dog/cat exit/entrance cut into a backdoor?
  • What steps will be taken if a pet disturbs/hurts a neighbor?
  • It might seem that fish are the perfect pets, but how big a fish tank will you permit? If it breaks, how much water are you ok with on your floor?
  • What are the consequences for violating the terms of your pet policy?

A Few More Tips for Landlords re: permitting pets

  • Meet & Greet. Pets and owners are more than any documentation about them. If you permit pets in your rental property, be sure to meet the pet(s) before signing all the paperwork. Watch how the prospective tenant interacts with their pet(s).
  • Policies as Guidelines. There may be a legitimate exception to some of your policies. For instance, your policy many not permit dogs over 30 pounds, yet a tenant may have an elderly dog that is 45 pounds, but not very active. Specify on the lease any specific exceptions you have made. On the other hand, a dog may fit the right size and type, but has a loud, high pitched bark, is very energetic, snaps at you when you try to pet it, or the tenant has little control over their pet. In that case you may want to say 'no'.  Also, consider the 'role' that a particular pet plays in the life of the prospective tenant. These things should make a difference in the way you apply your pet policy.

You can rightly be a pet lover, yet have a 'no pet' policy for your properties. The reverse is equally true. Yet, if you are a pet loving landlord, don't let your love for animals allow you to skimp on the details of your pet policy. Not every tenant who loves animals as you do will be as responsible with them in your property as you would be.

Disclosure: As in all our articles, we are trying to educate, but we are not legal experts on any of these topics. Hopefully this article will get you thinking more broadly on the topic and encourage you to do more research on it. Each state will have different laws. Be sure to check with local legal experts for your particular circumstances.